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I always wanted to cook root vegetables in hot embers but didn't have the required giant medieval hearth - until a month ago. See how we cooked turnips and beetroots from Hattonchâtel's moat garden in the castle's walk-in fireplace.
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Guy, the caretaker, was busy serving our hypocras to the big enchiladas of the Meuse department when we asked for his help to manage the hellish fire we had made in the castle's huge fireplace. He had made the fire an hour before with logs taken from the little niches built on each side of the fireplace, but these are not regular logs. Each was at least 1 meter (3 feet) long and weighted as much as two cheese heads. Now the heat was so intense that you could not really get close to the fire. We need a big bed of embers, I told him.

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Guy is quite fearless, and with the help of a long shovel, managed to spread the embers on the ground, then laid the wrapped vegetables to bed one by one.

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He then started covering the vegetables with another layer of hot embers ...

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... hellish work!

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We left the vegetables alone for an hour.

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As we came back, the fire had run out and Guy retrieved all the vegetables from the ashes. A roasted wild boar was placed before the fireplace. I'll tell you all about the wild boar next week.

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As the banquet started, we rushed back to the kitchen and unwrapped the vegetables. Sure enough, a few turnips has burnt patches on the outside, but these zones were easily removed and the flesh inside had this heavenly taste of caramelized root vegetables.

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We presented the sliced turnips as best we could on a platter, with generous helpings of half-salted butter on top.

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Once the beetroots were unwrapped and sliced, Midas sprinkled walnut oil and sea salt over them, ...

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... while Hanne sliced sorrel leaves. We had to buy a sorrel plant in a supermarket to get those leaves, but they are essential to this recipe because their tart flavor balances the beetroots' bland sweetness.

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Sprinkle the sorrel on the beetroots and serve.

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Rustic, but healthy and delicious. Serve a roasted wild boar as a side dish!

You don't need a medieval castle to cook this - any open hearth will do.

Next week you'll see how to roast a wild boar from start to finish.

You will find more recipes like this in an amazing American cookbook called The Magic of Fire. The author has done a lifetime of research cooking in open earths and over or directly in embers. A really unique and inspiring book, warmly recommended. The only thing missing from this book are pictures - I hope my modest effort will somewhat complement that masterpiece.


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52 Comments

Wow! That must have been a wonderful experience! What an amazing building in an amazing location.

We've cooked potatoes in the embers of a massive bonfire and they were utterly delicious on a dark November night!
I have a wood burning stove in the house and we have done toast on that once and marshmellows but it's something we don't do often enough. I love the idea of doing beetroot roasted that way! I adore beetroot!
Wonderful! I love root veggies! That first picture of the castle is really beautiful!

Cheers,

Rosa
  • #3
  • Comment by Ariun
Fascinating. A spectacular vegetable garden indeed! Can the turnip recipe be done using swedes instead?
  • #4
  • Comment by carmen
Greetings from Miami,Florida. I must say every time I visit your blog I am amazed by the adventurous ways you cook. I visit food blogs often but no ones is as original as yours. I love your recipe's and the way you cook. Very different than how I have seen some things cooked in the past. I find your recipes and the places you visit fascinating. The pics are beautiful almost magical.
Keep it up and God bless you for so much originality. It sounds like you live a very interesting and uncommon life.
Warm Regards and wishes; Carmen
  • #5
  • Answered by fx
Carmen, thanks a lot for your appreciation! To some extend each of us is granted some power of shaping his life. In this case, I was able to live this amazing experience thanks to my blog who attracted a reader with a castle, and I suggested that we cook this. I'm sure I'd have tried this in a different hearth eventually. When you think that nobody at the castle liked them turnips!
If I am not mistaken, the key is to keep the juices inside, this is why aluminum foil is used, right?

If so the question is, how was this done in the medieval times?
  • #7
  • Answered by fx
Ariun, I can't say that I care much for rutabagas, but it should work with them too. In France these vegetables are associated with times of hardship and deprivation, and they are not hugely popular - a bit unfair perhaps!
  • #8
  • Answered by fx
Rosa thanks for visiting - in fact my picture of the castle which you see at the beginning of the article is now used as the cover picture for the castle's brochure!
  • #9
  • Answered by fx
Diane, you should really try more hearth cooking, there is a great book in English by William Rubel with many other recipes.  
  • #10
  • Comment by Paul Mckenna
I had an idea.
If you bought and heated in the oven those volcanic stones used in saunas you could replicate the dish in a domestic oven.

I'll try it when the oven is fixed or I go back to the gym and sauna.

Paul
  • #11
  • Answered by fx
Paul, unfortunately this would definitely not work, as the point here is to have wrap-around heat with little spots of intense fire where a hot ember gets close to the paper. Try this at a picnic - no problem. But not in a domestic oven.
  • #12
  • Answered by fx
Ahmet, a good question! In days of yore they used oiled paper. This is counterintuitive but oiling the paper does not make it burn but helps it withstand the heat. But it's much more convenient to use foil these days. Some people wrap things in newspapers. In medieval times you would have used wine leaves, like I did for my Roman Grilled Quails in Wine Leaves. This being said this not a medieval recipe proper, most people in the Middle Ages would have stewed those vegetables in an earthenware pot placed on the embers.
Again, you inspire. (Now, if I just had some time... lol) It is great to think of what my predecessors had to go through in order to make those large banquets in the castles. What would make the vegetables so delicious is the moist heat method of them cooking in their own juices. The caramelization must have been out of this world.

I wonder if there were any leftovers? I can see a really nice beetroot and clover honey soup as a result. Okay, now I am really hungry. Thanks a lot. ;)
  • #14
  • Comment by Luiz F. Xavier Farah
Dear Mr. Xavier when I found FX Cuisine I was amazed with the quality of your blog,(actually I still am)the precision of the desriptions, the perfect pictures and the general good humour of your writing. Thanks for all I allways have a great time reading and learning with you. Talking about cooking with embers here in Brasil we have the churrasco ( barbecue )tradition and besides roasting the meat, we also put a lot of food directly on the embers of course now in modern times we wrap all in foil, in ancient times or if we do not have the foil wraping, we just put the potatoes, turnips, onions etc on the fire, when ready we peel/ discard the burned outsides skins and voilá. Another way I saw it made, is to involve the potatoes with skins on in mud before puting them on the embers, ( of course we can also put the foil or the grapes leaves before the mud coat)but the main purpose of my comment besides congratulating you is to share a experience with embers cooking. Some years ago I went fishing with a friend on a lake here in south Brazil, and to make a long history short, we caught some beautifull Trairas, ( Hoplias Malabaricus)later after cleaning the fishes and hungry discussing by the fire of our camping, how the native indians would prepare it we found ourselves arranging a very flat and regular lay of embers and putting the opened fish, first with the flesh side down directly on the embers, ( at that moment I have to confess waiting for disaster)After a few minutes I catch the fish by the tail and lifted it from the fire, to my surprise except for a few small embers adhered to the fish, the result was a perfect thin graysh crust. On the side with skin the result was not so beautiful since the fat coat of the fish is under it the crust was not as perfect. But the final result was a delicious moist and firm fish cooked to perfection, that we ate with our hands a fresh bread, and a couple of beers.
  • #15
  • Answered by fx
Luiz, thank you for visiting and sharing this most intriguing anectode, I would very much like to fish in the wild and then cook the fish in the hot embers. The meal you had was probably very close to what the first Christians ate 2000 years ago, with some bread cooked in the ashes!
  • #16
  • Answered by fx
Jason I think your predecessors cooked much more complex meals for banquets in the Middle Ages, at least according to the recipe books they left! No leftovers, we did not cook that many, about a dozen of each in total. Wait for the wild boar next week, that was spectacular!
Yet another amazing article! I love beets, we'll try this out in a campfire, I think that should work.
Francios, I hope that you write a book  with all these stories and beautiful pictures. I would certainly buy it, even with the exchange rate for Euros being drastically against me these days.

I love cooking over an open fire, and growing up on the farm at home we always cooked on a wood stove. Many times we would roast things directly on the hot top of the stove, wrapped in foil, but it is not the same as putting them directly in a fire.

One great memory that I have as a child is that of my brother and myself catching land crabs and roasting their claws in the fire. We did this every year during crab season and they were always delicious.

Another thing we did was cut lengths of sugarcane and lay them directly in a roaring fire, like firewood. The cane would blacken on the outside, bubbling and spitting juice from the cut ends. After a while in the fire we would pull out the sugar cane, peel it and enjoy the slightly smokey, caramelized taste. The time in the fire evaporates some of the water so that the sugar cane is even sweeter than usual, and the smokey sweet flavour is divine. I hope someday when you travel to the tropics that you will try it!
  • #19
  • Comment by Barbara
Francois, I want to thank you for a wonderful Blog/site. As others have said your photos are amazing and really show the steps that your words describe. This winter I am going to start using our wood stove more frequently. In the past with warmish winters it just didn't seem worth it, but the cost of oil this winter is going to make the stove a real enjoyment.
And I'm going to cook in the embers more frequently. Since our stove is an old one that fits inside the opening of a fireplace with a big plate to cover the fireplace opening most of the heat stays in the stove and since it extends into the room, it does heat the room. the top is flat, so we keep a kettle of water on it and actually cook on the top. We used a camp oven sometimes and made roast chicken and apple pie.
We often do this with potatoes and corn on the cob when we are camping - just stuff them down with the hot coals on the campfire.  I agree with another Jason that the leftovers would make an amazing soup...

Now I'm really hungry - and I just ate breakfast!

Thanks for your wonderful blog...
  • #21
  • Comment by Annie
Bonjour Francois,

During the winter, we cook potatoes in the fireplace.  There's some rather romantic about cooking this way.  Initially, my husband thought I was crazy, but the potatoes changed his mind.  Now, I'm going to try what Hanne did with turnips and beets.

Merci beaucoup!
  • #22
  • Answered by fx
Annie thanks for visiting! There are so many things you can cook in hot embers (as opposed to "on hot embers") - it would be a pity to limit yourself and your husband to potatoes, I agree with you!
  • #23
  • Answered by fx
Jennifer, there are so many great things you can cook on a camping fire, you must try the turnips or peppers from my other article!
  • #24
  • Answered by fx
Barbara, I wish you much fun with the stovetop cooking, this can be immensely enjoyable! Have a look at the book referred in the article, there are many other ideas of easy recipes you can cook on a wood fire.
  • #25
  • Answered by fx
Lyra I am much taken with your tale of the roasted sugarcane, we can get some in several shops in Lausanne, I will definitely try this! What a delightfully simple treat!
  • #26
  • Answered by fx
Laura you can also try this in a regular fireplace, provided it's deep enough. But a camping fire is just ideal too! Let me know if you can get a few good step-by-step pictures of your cookie baking, they are so spectacular I'd really love to write an article about them.
  • #27
  • Comment by Dean Gilliland
The vegetables look great but what's with the aluminium foil?  This is the middle ages. (not trying to be a purist or anything)

Dean Gilliland
  • #28
  • Comment by Theodore
Hey FX! Do you have any other cookbooks like this to suggest for those who like old fashion cooking?
I guess that you have loads just tell us about your favorites!!  


I LOOOOOOOOOOOOVE YOUR SITE!!!!!!!
Oh, oh, I love this piece... the simplicity of the recipe, the location... it's beautiful. Great photography; great meal.
  • #30
  • Comment by Laura D
Francois,
When you first posted about Hattonchatel, I followed your link to their website and viewed most of the photos there.  Then I opened this article and saw the lead photo, and my first thought was, "Now that photo is much better--more atmospheric, captures the romance of a medieval castle--than ANYTHING I saw on the 'official' site."  I am so happy to hear that your photo is now on the cover of the castle's brochure.
Keep up the good work.
  • #31
  • Comment by Alys
Ah, this brings back memories.

When I was young we just made the bed of coals, covered it with ash, put in the roots (potatoes, beets, turnip, etc) without peeling them, covered with more ashes and then coals on top. After an hour we dug them out and ate them on the spot  out of their skins with sprinkles of salt - very delicious.
  • #32
  • Comment by Luke
What an excellent coincidence. I was just thinking of how much I love bonfire roasted potatoes. Roots and tubers always taste better to me when they're roasted, for some reason. I think it's the rich, subtly smoky quality that you just can't get boiled, baked, fried. This is definitely a recipe I'll be trying soon, albeit on a smaller scale. Roasted turnips with butter sounds like great food to have when the weather gets nippy.

Amazing article, as always, FX!
FX, after reading this post, I have decided to change my perception about one particular member of the root crop family: the jicama (mexican turnip), which I am not very fond of. We cook in woodfires in my home and jicama could be had year-round, so I shall try and see if leaving it in the embers will give results that will make me love it.

Looking forward to next week's final installment about this medieval feast.
  • #34
  • Answered by fx
Feyoh, let me know how your ember-roasted jicaya turns out! There are still not one but three articles in the French castle Expedition serie...
  • #35
  • Answered by fx
Luke, glad you liked this recipe, the pictures didn't turn as well as I had hoped. The ember-roasting caramelizes the tubers and brings out their sweetness.
  • #36
  • Answered by fx
Alys, where did you roast these roots in ashes, was it in Canada? Is this a traditional way of cooking? Did you do this in a fireplace or in some campfire?
  • #37
  • Answered by fx
Laura, thanks for your kind words, I'm glad you liked my photo and hope it will help revive their castle!
  • #38
  • Answered by fx
Angela I'm glad you like these here pictures, I didn't have any time to prepare the light on those as the banquet was already on it's way when we finished roasting them!
  • #39
  • Answered by fx
Theodore I'll work on a favorite cookbooks list but I have cookbooks in many languages, although there are plenty good ones in English!
  • #40
  • Answered by fx
Dean, in the Middle Ages people placed the vegetables directly in the ashes. Unfortunately despite our best efforts we did not manage to attract a single medieval man at the table and had to resort to the modern but more hygienic silver foil. I hope you understand.
  • #41
  • Comment by Alys
This is traditional among children at least in the semi rural area of Canada where I grew up.  :-)

This is the camp fire that you're not supposed to make away from home out in a vacant lot or on the edge of the woods (we would say - bush)and the vegetables walked there from various gardens. I was shown this as a 5 year old by older kids and I have passed it on in my turn.

We were well fed at home but always hungry after playing so these snacks were welcome.
  • #42
  • Answered by fx
Alys, what a lovely and healthy snack for kids! I bet many parents nowadays would be quite pleased to see their kids actually dig up vegetables and cook them, when most kids today are vegetarians who don't eat vegetables!
  • #43
  • Comment by Toby Esterhase
Hi François,

I purchased a bunch of goodies at the farmers market yesterday and if I can stop being lazy, I will try this for my meal tonight, otherwise tomorrow.  I am going to use my outdoor grill.  I have both charcoal briquettes and hardwood charcoal to choose from, but I think I'll go with the hardwood charcoal unless you think it'd be better to go buy some firewood?

Unfortunately for me, I can't find any turnips with the leaves still on so I will have to leave that bit out.  I think next week at the market I am going to ask one of the farmers if they can get me any turnips WITH the leaves still on. :)

By the way, if I ever stayed at a castle cooking medieval dishes, I'd be very tempted to listen to the soundtrack for the 1968 film version of The Lion in Winter.
  • #44
  • Comment by rosedarpam
This is my second comment of the day.  After reading your soup party blog, I thought that you couldn't top it.  You have outdone yourself.  Simple food prepared to perfection is always my goal.  As I quickly scrolled down the page, I kept saying "oh, yes, oh yes, oh yes!"  Next party will be at the beach house!
  • #45
  • Answered by fx
Rosedarpam, hold on for the medieval desserts articles, two of them with the first on Friday!
  • #46
  • Answered by fx
Toby, unless you want to poison some Russian double agent I'd advise against charcoal briquettes, they contain all sorts of crap, most of which not compatible with a long healthy life. I use myself firewood because it's more sexy, but hardwood charcoal will work fine too. If you have some farmer's market I'm sure you can ask the farmer to bring you turnips with leaves on for the next week, otherwise just forget about it. I'll look into the movie you recommended!
  • #47
  • Comment by Toby Esterhase
Well François, I made the meal two nights ago, and it was great.  Rave reviews all around.

Lucky for me, my local grocery store had a bunch of turnip greens for $1.09USD.  That was some bunch too - I believe could make this meal over twice and still have the greens left.  So here's my medley cooked vegetables: 12 beats, 6 turnips, 6 parsnips, and since I had 3 red peppers almost ready to expire I used them too.  With the red peppers, I just rubbed them down with olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper.  Only mishap was the parsnips were dried out and mushy.

Since wild boar is a bit hard to find around here, I bought thick-cut pork chops.  I made a light-salt brine with rosemary and bay leaves.  I had Karla over for dinner so I made him a special chop grilled over charcoal.
  • #48
  • Answered by fx
Toby, I'm glad to hear you managed to get those hard-to-find vegetables and that it worked to your expectations! And beware with Karla, those Russian spies can't eat anything without first sprinkling it with dioxin these days ...
  • #49
  • Comment by jay furman
To the effervescent Francois,
Here I am again, sitting here at my kitchen Laptop this cool morning. It snowed last night for a bit, October 27, 2008. Your digital photos bring your amazing dishes to life....
The use of sorrel to enhance beetroots is a new herb for me to experience. Ahead of me are a box of mushrooms, some onions, one artichoke and a few potatoes to address. Olive oil, garlic, numerous spices and a now quiet oven await an awakening very soon.  The protein element of choice are a few Hungarian Bratwursts that I cooked the other day (in beer, apples and chicken broth).
Again, I love your photo essays on all that you present to us out here in youtube, www land.
Stay well, time to fire up the oven.
jf
  • FX's answer→ Thanks Jay and have fun with the sorrel!

  • #51
  • Comment by Rowan Boyle
Hi FX,
Upon spending about the last 6 hours devouring your site, I see that you are a big fan of traditional ways of cooking food. You said at the beginning of the article that you had always wanted to cook root vegies on embers. That got me to reminicing about the wonderful hangi's I have enjoyed growing up in New Zealand. Now what is a hangi I hear you ask? A hangi is the traditional Maori way of cooking up a mega feast! To "lay a hāngi" or "put down a hāngi" involves digging a pit in the ground, heating stones in the pit with a large fire, placing baskets of food (wrapped in leaves or foil if you prefer)on top of the stones, and covering everything with earth for several hours before uncovering (or lifting) the hāngi. No expensive equipment needed - just a spade,fire, a pit and some rocks. And of course some food! If you ever go to NZ, you must try this! Hell, you could even make your own in Switzerland! If you know any Kiwis in Switzerland I guarantee that they would sell their soul to dine with you that night. I'd love to see the photos if you do end up trying this wonderful way of cooking!
  • FX's answer→ Rowan, thanks for your kind words. I'd very much like to eat a pig the hangi way, a beautiful improvised field oven it is!


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